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Scholars reveal why Museveni has ruled for long

President Museveni

President Museveni

Researchers have published a book that details the political tactics President Yoweri Museveni has used to rule Uganda for nearly four decades. Titled Autocratization in Contemporary Uganda: Clientelism, Coercion, and Social Control, the book was launched last week.

It asserts that since the return of multiparty democracy, Uganda has been under the autocratic leadership of Museveni. The book analyzes two interrelated outcomes: autocratization, manifested in the deepening of personalist rule or ‘Musevenism,’ and regime resilience that has made Museveni one of Africa’s longest-serving current leaders.

Central to the book is the question: How has Museveni managed to maintain his increasingly autocratic rule, and what has been the trajectory of this rule? While Museveni has governed Uganda since 1986, the book specifically examines the period starting from 2005 to explain Museveni’s autocratic tendencies.

The year 2005 is significant as it marks Uganda’s return to a multiparty system following a referendum held in July of that year. At that time, Museveni had already been in power for about 20 years. The referendum ended the monolithic movement system that was ushered in by Museveni and his NRA/NRM.

Moses Khisa and his co-authors focus on the years since 2005, highlighting the “autocratic turn” and placing it within a broader comparative context, enriching the discussion with references beyond Uganda.

They come up with what they describe as “autocratic adaptability” as a defining hallmark of Museveni’s rule. The book examines factors that have made autocratic adaptability possible, analyzing dynamics around themes like institutions, resources and coalitions. Khisa discussed the book during a virtual meeting attended by academics in the field of political science.

He posed a central question: “The puzzle, as we like to say in comparative politics, is how has President Yoweri Museveni been able to rule Uganda—a country that is so diverse and complex?”

“I mean, all countries and societies are complicated and complex. But there is something quite extraordinary about Uganda as a society and its people, such that one man ruling for this long is extraordinarily unique and something very puzzling, worth careful investigation,” said Khisa, an associate professor of Political Science (and Africana Studies).


Khisa defines autocracy as one man’s rule, but it is also highly personalist in the sense that a lot of power and authority has become extremely consolidated and centralized around the person of the president.

“So, in this book, we try to pool together insights that help illuminate the main drivers of what we call autocratization, which essentially has been a deepening entrenchment of autocratic rule, which is one rule or one-party rule at best,” he said.

Khisa is a well-known academic among those who have studied Museveni’s tenure and the strategies that have enabled him to maintain power for so long. In 2020, he wrote an article titled “Politicisation and professionalisation: The progress and perils of civil-military transformation in Museveni’s Uganda.”

His book expands on these themes and includes a theoretical introduction chapter followed by eleven detailed chapters. These sections dissect the three core factors that have enabled President Museveni to govern Uganda for nearly four decades. Khisa, who was a toddler when Museveni took power in 1986, has not witnessed any other president govern Uganda.

He commented, “Museveni’s long rule has largely been defined by two core features: the sheer resilience and longevity that has kept the president in power since 1986. Approaching four decades of Museveni’s uninterrupted rule is extraordinary,” while displaying two portraits of President Museveni— one from 1986 and one of the present-day Museveni.

“You can see that these are two different Musevenis facially. A relatively young Museveni when he had just come to power and Museveni today. Many Ugandans like to point out that if the two Musevenis met, they would engage in a bloody fight,” observes Khisa.

He notes that while some aspects and thinking of President Museveni have remained consistent, “the man has also changed, not just physically but in terms of his governance approach and philosophy.”

Khisa is also a research associate with the Centre for Basic Research in Kampala, Uganda, and a weekly columnist for Daily Monitor newspaper. He equates Museveni’s rule to an imperial presidency, saying, “In the sense that the rule is built around the person and what he wants to push through. It is less institutionalized; so, deinstitutionalization is very much a characteristic of Museveni’s rule.”


The scholar notes that Museveni is one of Africa’s longest-serving presidents, with most of his contemporaries having long left power.

“Today, only two presidents have been in power longer: Paul Biya in Cameroon and Teodoro Obiang of Equatorial Guinea, who has been in power for 45 years,” he explained.

“This is quite puzzling because many others, peers of Museveni, have been swept aside or have left power voluntarily. And Museveni, like many others, has faced various challenges over time, including both armed and unarmed threats,” Khisa observed.

Khisa questions why Museveni hasn’t been pushed aside like Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe in 2016 or Omar al- Bashir in Sudan. “Or why haven’t protests like the 2011 walk to work campaign ousted Museveni, similar to Blaise Compaore in Burkina Faso, who was pushed out by street protests?” Khisa asked.

Aili Mari Tripp, Vilas Research professor of Political Science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA, wrote, “This compilation of insightful essays charts the autocratization of Uganda since Museveni’s takeover. It effectively demonstrates how the regime has become increasingly personalized and institutionally fragmented.”

“The book illustrates how the regime’s longevity is a product of both cooperation and coercion,” said Tripp, who has also written a paper titled ‘How African Autocracies instrumentalize women leaders.’

Her essay explores how authoritarian leaders in Africa promote women leaders and how the instrumentalization of women leaders serves to enhance the longevity of their rule. Her essay explores the recent constitutional changes in countries like Uganda, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Burundi, South Sudan and Somalia, which have enacted provisions to promote women leaders.

“In Uganda, after a fiercely contested election where the opposition was severely repressed, President Yoweri Museveni appointed a woman as vice president, a woman as prime minister, and another as deputy prime minister. Following the untimely death of her predecessor, he appointed a woman as speaker of parliament. The previous speaker, who served from 2011 to 2021, was also a woman,” explained Aili Mari Tripp.

Reflecting on the book compiled by Moses Khisa and others, Tripp wrote, “Each chapter delves into a different set of institutions to explore mechanisms of institutional adaptability, pervasive clientelism, and legal manipulation. Collectively, the book makes a significant contribution to our understanding of how autocracy functions in contemporary Africa.”

Discussing his extended tenure, Museveni, who secured a sixth term in the 2021 presidential election with 58.6% of the vote, has often dismissed Western accusations of being an autocrat. In an interview with German-based journalists, Museveni stated, “Those people don’t understand our position in the world. They are just talking about things they do not understand.”

Museveni has justified his prolonged rule by asserting his role in awakening Ugandans to participate in the money economy. “Here, even fools can survive. In Europe, foolishness can be lethal. Thus, there is substantial work to be done for socio-economic transformation,” Museveni explained.

He further elaborated that by 2014, 32% of Ugandans had become proactive, producing both for sustenance and income.

“The challenge in Uganda is not scarcity but surplus. Because of this, we face significant historical bottlenecks that require the attention of all available manpower. If the people consent, then it’s only right that everyone contributes,” Museveni said.

Asserting his leadership style, Museveni added, “We are not merely actors in a theatre; we are engaged in a serious struggle to transform Africa. That’s why we need everyone’s contribution if the people desire it.”

Challenging the notion that he is an autocrat, Museveni concluded, “There is much work to be done. Let everyone be available for democratic recruitment. If people desire a strong leader, or a gentle one, or even an older leader, they should have that choice.”

Observers both within Uganda and internationally note that although Uganda conducts regular elections, it lacks a functional multiparty democracy. These elections are seen as a means to an end, and there is concern that if Museveni runs again in 2026, at age 81, the elections will not be free or fair.


+3 #11 Sula 2024-05-08 19:50
This war lord found an economy with a commercial sector with vibrant banks led by UCB ,Insurance CO'S ETC , a vibrant Agricultural sector led by a vibrant cooperative system, A transport sector with Uganda Airlines , over 20 planes, trains , UTC buses etc, A manufacturing sector based in Jinja , this primitive ,self-centered man and cabal collapsed everything, Everything ,in order to impoverish Ugandans !!!!!!!

Today his family is the richest in Uganda.
Khisa are you serious to categorize museveni as a leader worth doing research on ?
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